Meyer lemons are named for Frank N. Meyer, the agricultural explorer who identified the plant and brought it back to America in the early 20th century. He found these special lemons in their origin country of China, where the plants were being used as decorative houseplants. The true potential of the fruit wasn't discovered until chefs like Alice Waters started using them at her restaurant Chez Panisse. Meyer lemons hit the mainstream when Martha Stewart featured them as an ingredient in several recipes in the early 2000s.
What Are Meyer Lemons?
Meyer lemons are believed to be a cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange. The fruit is about the size of a lemon, sometimes slightly smaller, with a smooth, deep yellow peel. When mature, the thin peel can be almost orange. The flesh and juice are sweeter than a regular lemon and can be used raw or cooked. Because the peel is thin and lacking in a thick, bitter pith, the whole lemon (minus the seeds) can be used. Because Meyer lemons are considered a specialty item, they can be up to twice the price of regular lemons.
How to Cook With Meyer Lemons
Wash and dry the lemons before using them. The zest can be used by grating with a Microplane grater or carefully peeled with a sharp knife or peeler. The peel on Meyer lemons is much thinner than regular lemon peel, so peel carefully to avoid puncturing the fruit. The fruit can be cut in half and juiced, chopped and used in chutneys or salads, or sliced and used in baking or savory dishes.
Meyer lemons can frequently be used in place of lemons for a sweeter result, or in place of oranges for a tarter dish.
What Do Meyer Lemons Taste Like?
Meyer lemons taste similar to regular lemons but with a sweeter, more floral taste. They have a lighter dose of acidity and a thin peel and lack the sharp tang and bitterness of a typical lemon. The flavor can taste a little like a sour lemon mixed with a juicy orange. When ripe, they have a citrusy, spiced aroma.
Meyer Lemon Recipes
Much like standard lemons, Meyer lemons can be used in a variety of ways. The peel can be candied or zested into sweet and savory dishes. The juice can be used to make lemonade, cocktails, or in baking or cooking to brighten up a dish. The whole fruit can be chopped and added to chutneys or marmalade, or sliced and added to salads, baked goods, or seafood.
If you are swapping regular lemons for Meyer lemons, you may want to adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe.
Where to Buy Meyer Lemons
Meyer lemons aren't as widely available as regular lemons. Because of their thin peel, they don't travel as well and are more widely available in citrus-growing regions. Still, some specialty and organic markets carry Meyer lemons, especially during the winter months, and you can sometimes find them directly from the grower online. They are typically sold per lemon, loose per pound, or in 1-10 pound bags. Look for fresh Meyer lemons from December through May.
Buy firm fruit that feels heavy and is brightly colored, smooth, and free from dark or soft spots.
Meyer lemon trees are popular ornamental and home gardening plants due to their shiny, dark green leaves and deep yellow fruit. They thrive in warm climates but can be grown in pots and overwintered indoors in colder climates.
How to Store Meyer Lemons
For best results, store fresh Meyer lemons in a sealed plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Depending on how fresh they are, they will keep for a week or more. Kept at room temperature, the lemons will stay fresh for a few days.
The juice can be frozen in an ice cube tray and stored in a freezer-safe bag or container for up to six months. Meyer lemons can be preserved for up to a year, candied peels will keep for up to six months, and cooked chutney or marmalade will keep for up to three weeks in the fridge or six months if properly canned.
Nutrition and Benefits
There's a reason old-timey sailors ate lots of citrus. The fruits are packed with vitamin C, which fights scurvy (a now-rare disease) and aids in boosting immunity and repairing cells and tissue. One lemon provides 50 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. The fruit is also low in calories and fat and high in water.
Meyer Lemons vs. Regular Lemons
Meyer lemons have a sweeter flavor than regular lemons, with a less intense acidic bite. You can tell them apart at the market by their shape and peel. The most common varieties of regular lemons are Eureka and Lisbon, and they tend to be light or bright yellow and oblong, with a thick, bumpy peel. Meyer lemons are rounder, with a thin, smooth, bright orange-yellow peel. They tend to be labeled well to distinguish them from regular lemons because fresh Meyer lemons are harder to find.